While we do not know the exact reason this was written, we do know the purpose for Psalm 42: it is a maschil psalm, a song of instruction, and teaching. Whatever his circumstances, the author has been suffering through a period of intense trials, trials so severe that they have plunged him into a deep depression. God’s Spirit inspired Psalm 42 to teach us what to do when we find ourselves in the same pit of despair.
The psalmist uses a vivid image to express his need for God: Like a deer searching desperately for water in the wilderness, his soul craves the energizing strength, hope, and joy found only in the Lord. Emotionally and spiritually dehydrated, he cries out to God from the bottom of his heart. The psalmist desperately longs for the Lord to rejuvenate his spirit. But he was far from Jerusalem and the temple where God’s presence dwelt. Because of this, he felt unable to connect with God.
Under the old covenant, God’s presence dwelt in one specific place: the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle (and, later, the temple). The psalmist feels alienated from God because he is away from this sacred place. Therefore, he asks God how much longer it would be before he is able to return to Jerusalem to stand before Him. Under the new covenant, God does not abide in a specific place but in His people. Through His Holy Spirit, the Lord lives within every true believer. Although God’s presence is always within us, we may feel distant.
The psalmist’s spiritual suffering is compounded because he can do nothing to change his distressing situation. He cannot return to Jerusalem to worship with God’s people. Memories of “better days” – past celebrations in God’s house – only intensify his craving for the Lord’s presence. There had been a time when he was the most excited of worshipers, leading the joyous procession to God’s house. Now, lonely and depressed, he yearns to be among the congregation again as they march to the temple on the holy days, the days of celebrating the feasts ordained by God under the law. How he aches to be with the people of God, dancing and singing in praise and worship to Him!
- During the lockdown for COVID-19, have you felt emotionally and spiritually dehydrated?
- What are some ways you can remind yourself of God’s nearness?
- What does this Psalm teach us about the communal aspects of worship?
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